‘Bondslaves and Pagans shall our Statesmen be’: Interracial Marriage and Transgression in Othello


  • Imed Sassi




Interracial marriage, Moor, Othello, Shakespeare, early modern, race.


The representation of race, ethnicity and cultural difference has become a focal point in recent Shakespearean and early modern scholarship.  Nevertheless, the issue of interracial marriage has not yet been given its due even though it unravels the most intimate and significant encounter with otherness, not only for the couple involved, but also with reference to their society at large. This essay explores the dynamics and politics of interracial marriage in Othello (1604). My main argument is that the Moor’s interracial marriage potentially guarantees a better integration in Venice for an outsider whose almost sole attachment to, and toleration in, that society is predicated on his usefulness to it.


Bartels E. (2008). Speaking of the Moor: From Alcazar to Othello. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.

Bartels E. (1997). Othello and Africa: Postcolonialism reconsidered, William and Mary Quarterly, 54, 45–64.

Bassi, S. (2016). Shakespeare’s Italy and Italy’s Shakespeare: Place, “Race”, Politics. New York: MacMillan.

Best, G. (1578). A True Discourse of the Three Voyages of Discoverie, for the Finding of a Passage to Cathaya, by the Northwest, under the Conduct of Martin

Frobisher Generall. In R. Hakluyt (Ed.), The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation. Retrieved 10 January, 2019

from http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.03.0070%3Anarrative%3 D578&force=y

Boose, L. (1994). “The getting of a lawful race”: Racial discourse in early modern England and the unrepresentable black woman. In M M. Hendricks & P. Parker

(Eds.), Women, “Race”, and Writing in the Early Modern Period (pp.35-54). New York: Routledge.

Bovilsky, L. (2008). Barabarous Plays: Race on the English Renaissance Stage. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Bowers, Fredson (Ed.). (1961). The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker. Cambridge: CUP.

Britton, D. A. (2014). Becoming Christian: Race, Reformation, and Early Modern English Romance. New York: Fordham UP.

Bullough, G. (Ed.). (1975). Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. Vol. 8. London, Routledge and Paul Kegan.

Callaghan, D. (2000). Shakespeare without Women: Representing Gender and Race on the Renaissance Stage. London: Routledge.

Callaghan, D. (1996). “Othello was a white man”: Properties of race on Shakespeare’s stage. In T. Hawkes (Ed.), Alternative Shakespeares 2 (pp. 192-215).

London: Routledge.

Chapman, M. (2017). Anti-Black racism in early modern English drama: The other “other”. New York: Routledge.

Corredera, V. (2016). “Not a Moor exactly”: Shakespeare, serial, and modern constructions of race, Shakespeare Quarterly, 67(1), 30-50.

Cowhig, R. (1985). Blacks in English Renaissance drama and the role of Shakespeare's Othello. In D. Dabydeen (Ed.), The Black Presence in English Literature

(pp.1-25). Manchester: Manchester UP.

Daileader, C. (2005). Racism, Misogyny, and the Othello Myth: Inter-racial Couples from Shakespeare to Spike Lee. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Edwards, P. (1992). The early African presence in the British Isles. In J. S. Gundara & I. Duffield (Eds.), Essays on the History of Blacks in Britain from

Roman Times to the Mid-Twentieth Century (pp. 18-20). Aldershot: Avebury.

Erickson, P. (1998). The moment of race in Renaissance studies. Shakespeare Studies, 26, 27–36.

Erickson P. & Hall, K. F. (Eds.). (2016). “A new scholarly song”: Rereading early modern race, Shakespeare Quarterly, 67(1), 1-13.

Fanon, F. (1986). Black Skin, White Masks. (C. Markham, Trans.) London: Pluto Press. (Original work published 1952).

Floyd-Wilson M. (2003). English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Drama. Cambridge, Cambridge UP.

Grady, K. (2016). Othello, Colin Powell, and post-racial anachronisms, Shakespeare Quarterly, 67(1), 68-83.

Green MacDonald, J. (Ed.). (1997). Race, Ethnicity, and Power in the Renaissance. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.

Green MacDonald, J. (1994). Women and Race in Early Modern Texts. Cambridge: CUP.

Habib, I. (2008). Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500–1677: Imprints of the Invisible. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Habib, I. (2000). Shakespeare and Race: Postcolonial Praxis in the Early Modern Period. Lanham, MD, University Press of America.

Hall, K. (1995). Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Hampton-Reeves, S. (2011). Othello: A Guide to the Text and the Play in Performance. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hendricks, M. (2000) Surveying “race” in Shakespeare. In C. M. S. Alexander & S. Wells (Eds.), Shakespeare and Race (pp.1–22). Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

Hendricks M. & Parker P. (Eds.). (1994). Women, “Race” and Writing in the Early Modern Period. London: Routledge.

Hunt, M. (1999). Be dark but not too dark: Shakespeare’s Dark Lady as a sign of color. In J. Schiffer (Ed.), Shakespeare’s Sonnets: Critical Essays (pp.369-

. New York: Garland.

Ingram, M. (1987). Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England 1570-1640. Cambridge: CUP.

Iyengar, S. (2005). Shades of Difference: Mythologies of Skin Color in Early Modern England. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press.

Kaufmann, M. (2017). Black Tudors: The Untold Story. London: Oneworld Publications.

Kaufmann, M. (2015). “Making the Beast with Two Backs”: Interracial relationships in early modern England, Literature Compass, 12(1), 22-37.

Levith, M. (1989). Shakespeare’s Italian Settings and Plays. London: Macmillan Press.

Little. JR., A. L. (2016). Re-Historicizing race, white melancholia, and the Shakespearean property. Shakespeare Quarterly, 67(1), 84-103.

Lowe, K. (2013). Visible lives: black gondoliers and other black Africans in Renaissance Venice, Renaissance Quarterly, 66, 412–452.

Loomba, A. (2002). Shakespeare, Race, and Colonialism. Oxford, Oxford UP.

Loomba, A. (1996). Shakespeare and cultural difference. In T Hawkes (Ed.), Alternative Shakespeares 2 (pp. 164-191). London: Routledge.

Loomba, A. (1994). Sexuality and racial difference. In A. G. Barthelemy (Ed.), Critical Essays on Shakespeare’s Othello (pp. 162–186). New York: G. K. Hall.

Loomba, A. (1989). Gender, Race, and Renaissance Drama. Manchester: Manchester UP.

Loomba, A. & Burton, J. (Eds.). (2007). Race in Early Modern England: A Documentary Companion. New York: Palgrave.

Neill, M. (1998). “Mulattos,” “blacks,” and “Indian Moors”: Othello and early modern constructions of human difference. Shakespeare Quarterly, 49, 361–374.

Puar J. (2012) “I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess”: Becoming-intersectional in assemblage theory. philoSOPHIA: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, 2

(1), 49–66.

Royster, F. T. (1998). The ‘end of race” and the future of early modern cultural studies. Shakespeare Studies, 26, 59-69.

Rymer, T. (1974). A short view of tragedy. In B. Vickers (Ed.), Shakespeare: The Critical Heritage. London, Routledge and Paul Kegan.

Shakespeare, William. (2009.) The Complete Works of Shakespeare. (6th ed). David Bevington. New York: Pearson Longman.

Singh, J. (1994). Othello’s identity, postcolonial theory, and contemporary African rewritings of Othello. In M. Hendricks & P. Parker (Eds.), Women, “Race”,

and Writing in the Early Modern Period (pp. 287-299). New York: Routledge.

Sisson, A. (2015). Othello and the unweaponed city, Shakespeare Quarterly, 66, 137-166.

Smith, I. (1998). Barbarian errors: performing race in early modern England, Shakespeare Quarterly, 49, 168–186.

Turner T. A. (2015). Othello on the rack, The journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, 15(3), 102-136.

Ungerer, G. (2013). The presence of Africans in Elizabethan England and the performance of Titus Andronicus at Burley-on-the-Hill, 1595/96, Medieval &

Renaissance Drama in England, 21, 19-55.

Weissbourd, E. (2013). “I have done the state some service”: Reading slavery in Othello through Juan Latino, Comparative Drama, 47(4), 529-551.